Anders the Ambulai driver, Goldilocks and the three seat positions, and perspective taking when out on the road

# Lyft Thoughts

Would Goldilocks have eventually habituated to the too big bed or the too soft chair or the too hot Oatmeal? is a question I ask myself when I notice I keep changing the seat position and the temperature dial on my car.

First I’m too close, then I’m too far back. First it’s too hot, now it’s too cold. Where’s the middle ground? Is there a sweet spot, or can it only be brought on my by acceptance of the circumstances and a decision to habituate?


Passenger Story: The Beer Hating Former Vet Ambulai Driver

“You ever work in retail?” passenger Jerry* asks me. When I tell him I worked at a frozen yogurt shop in high school, he nods, then continues: “You know how at the end of the day when you’re about to close up and these customers come in demanding service, and you begrudgingly give in?

I tell him yes; he pauses before going on: “By the end of my eight months in combat my response to people shooting at me was similar to the one I had to those customers. ‘Come on guys, now? You really have to be doing this now? Now’s not a great time, but okay,’ I’d think, before shrugging and resigning myself to what was happening. I just got desensitized to it. It became the most normal annoying thing ever.” 

Minutes earlier I’d pulled into a parking lot filled with ambulances in Vallejo, California. A spiky-haired brunette guy in his late 20s jogged up to my car from about thirty feet away, wearing glasses and a black t-shirt. He stopped in front of the passenger window to confirm that I was his driver before getting in.

“My job is driving ambulances…ambulai? Is that the plural of them?” he wonders aloud. “Damn, I really don’t know. Anyways, driving them back to outposts is what I do,” he explains not long into the ride. The pick-up location made sense now— I was returning him from one of those outposts to Mercedes in Fairfield, about a 30-minute drive from our location in Vallejo.

When Anders makes the desensitization comment, I can somewhat relate. While I haven’t been shot at or bombarded by customers in a retail setting, as a Lyft driver who’s out on the road so much I did become somewhat desensitized to traffic and road frustrations.

A friend I once drove with, who was irate after a driver cut us off (I was the one driving), commented on my ostensible calmness. My guess (as to explain the difference in our responses) was that because this friend herself drives the “standard amount,” her reflexes and responses to shitty driving are more on par with what you would expect from your average person. I on the other hand was on the road so much that I would have suffered an ulcer at some point had I reacted to every single slight. 

Maybe it was similar to customer service reps’ higher threshold for adult tantrums and cranky displays of entitlement; surgeons’ habituation to blood; morticians’ desensitization to the sight of dead bodies; and those who rob for a living’s immunity to other people’s feelings (*Did these comparisons take a dark turn?).

“Three years of college, health insurance for life. Aside from the depression and the PTSD it’s a pretty sweet payoff,” Anders says of his time in the military.

He’s now studying to be a nurse, with an interest in working in the trauma unit. 

“I like helping people. And fast-paced’s my kind of environment. So it seems like it’ll be a good fit for me.”

A final tidbit he divulges is that he does not like beer. “But don’t tell any of my friends that–it’s un-American,” he makes me promise.

Courteous, composed, and optimistically ebullient—these are the words that enter my mind to summarize the interaction after Anders leaves my car. Sometimes now when an emergency vehicle sounds, I think “ambulai” and remember our ride.


# Lyft Overheard

A cat skitters across the street, paws moving swiftly, black and white belly sashaying from side to side.

“Oh shit he’s jay-walkin’!” exclaims one male passenger.

 “Nah man, no excuse for that,” his friend adds. “There’s hella crosswalks here and everything.”


#Lyft Thoughts: Perspective taking to temper road rage

An old man in a Toyota Camry waits for a parking spot, blocking the flow of traffic while he does so. 

The young, blond, spiky-haired male driver stuck behind him is not happy about this.

He tries, with exasperation, to get around the old man, but the ceaseless flow of traffic to his left prevents him.

Later as I drive down Grand Avenue in Oakland, I find myself in a similar position to the one that the spiky-haired young guy was in earlier. A car pulls slowly out of a parking spot. I stop to wait for him, as he is obstructing my path. I begin to get annoyed. 

Before the annoyance can grow, a rebuttal sweeps in, sent from my higher self.

Here’s what it said:  “Hey, so not sure if you realized you did this– I want to give the benefit of the doubt–but I couldn’t help but notice that you just jumped to a split second conclusion that’s now the cause of your current annoyance.”

“Oh yeah? And what conclusion is that?” I ask it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is egoheart3.jpg

‘This driver is intentionally disregarding my need.’

“My need to…?”

“Get from point A to Point B as quickly as possible.”

I pause to consider this, and realize he is right.

I’ve chosen the character Heart to symbolize the old man (and drivers like him): The gentle yet aggravating road deterrent. Meanwhile the character Eggo represents the teenager (and drivers like him): the competitive but seemingly competent road aggressor.

Eggos pride themselves on driving quickly and efficiently. Regardless of how much experience they have with driving, they are generally young and confident. Hearts are the slower, less certain maneuverers who may not know the roads as well. Perhaps older and less confident in their driving abilities, they inconvenience the Eggos without meaning to.  They are more likely to exhibit vulnerability and confusion than Eggos are. 

I’m confident that most of us have driven like Eggo at certain points, and like Heart at others. Sometimes we’re the more vulnerable ones– both on the road and in the world– perceived as annoyances. Other times we’re the ones with more power, perceived as assholes.

  Furthermore, I had definitely been the stopped car–ie, Heart–various times before. I’d fielded honks, middle fingers, and exasperated eye rolls in my effort to simply obtain a parking spot (spoiler: it didn’t feel good)– and probably would be again some time in the future. 

Yet, as I always come to recognize in hindsight–when frustrated or triggered by other another person’s actions, nothing vaporizes as quickly as recollections of the moments (sometimes even minutes earlier) we were in their exact shoes.

I think of all the other times this has happened: Irritation towards a car that took too long to pull out of its parking spot.  Annoyance at a bike— either for occupying too much space on the road or for maneuvering in a zig-zaggy way that made its rider’s intentions unclear or ambiguous (I’d been that biker before, at least inadvertently).

Maybe even frustration at a timid driver who seems to be taking forever to make his or her left turn (when the onus falls at least in part on all the cars that won’t slow down in order to let them). 

“A cyclist can also be a driver and a pedestrian,” writes Andrea Arzaa, “Just like a driver can hop onto a bike every now and then. That is to say, we aren’t different teams; we’re all people looking for more efficient ways to move through the city.”

 Ask yourself: 

 When you were Heart, did others’ honking (and occasional yelling and swearing) help you find your way? Did it encourage you to speed up, drive with more certainty, and cease being a nuisance? 

Or did the censures only further fluster you, accelerating what needed to be calmed (your heart rate) while slowing down what the raucous honkers were urging you speed up (your car)?  

Next time the flames of impatience and indignation threaten to consume me out there on the road, I’ll call these instances to mind. I’ll let them wash over those flames, tempering or even extinguishing them with waves of empathy.

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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